Charles Rehn - Democrat for President 2004

A Conversation With America
Questions That Must Be Answered
Web Edition (c) 2002, 2003 Charles Rehn All Rights Reserved




Vices: Marijuana


There are 3 things that always stick out in my mind when it comes to marijuana:

700,000 Americans per year, $10 Billion dollars per year and, a television program I happened to catch back in 1975 (I believe it was called The New Republic)  featuring William F. Buckley.

For those who don't remember him, Buckley has always been considered to be extremely conservative. This is a paraphrasing of what he said:

The war on drugs is a complete failure, and the money spent on it would be better used to educate people on the dangers of the drugs themselves, and treatment for those who abuse them.

He went on to say that the greatest harm caused by the use of marijuana was the sociological impact it had by causing those people who use marijuana to withdraw from civic involvement out of their fear of being exposed, publicly humiliated and criminalized. People who would otherwise be considered good citizens were being forced into the closet.

The 700,000 number? That's the number of Americans every year who get tickets or are arrested for some kind of involvement in the use of marijuana, more than 80% of whom were guilty of nothing more than simple possession. $10 billion dollars is the amount of money spent every year to thwart them in obtaining marijuana.

Law enforcement officers speak of court jams from cases, enforcement time interfering with more important matters... like Homeland Security.

I'm not going to play the game of comparing alcohol to marijuana as if having a discussion about which is better or worse. Again, I don't really believe either is "good" except for the beneficial relaxing effects that either can have. Everybody has their way of relaxing.

The only comment I'll make in that way is to say that when a person drinks too much alcohol, there is an incredible mountain of evidence showing that the chance of violent behavior - physically or verbally abusive - goes up substantially.

When people smoke marijuana, they smile a lot and eat a lot of junk food, then fall asleep. That's a scientific fact.  Otherwise, on an individual basis, alcohol and marijuana elicit the same negative behaviors and reactions... they might make an individual feel good or ill, give you headaches, cloud your thinking... on a cause and effect basis, on the surface, there's not much difference (except that marijuana will not cause you to become violent, abusive or obnoxious).

If you asked me whether, if I had to make a choice of which to be legal or illegal, I would have to select marijuana as the legal social drug based on many facts.  And, of course, a little aversion to alcohol. At the same time, I've enjoyed making a few gallons of wine every few years - as a hobby.

The greatest fact, though, that compels me to speak out on this issue has to do with the truth... or at least, setting the record straight about something that has been exploited for political reasons.

Here's the story I want to tell you.

Back in what must have been about 1967, Scotts Valley Elementary School (in Santa Cruz County, Ca.) had its own drug-abuse prevention program going on.

People think the use of drugs, flower children, hippies and communes and all that counter-culture stuff started in San Francisco in the Haight-Ashbury district, but the truth is it began in the hills of Santa Cruz, just a few miles away from where I lived, up around Boulder Creek and Ben Lomond. It's where the famed "electric kool-aid acid tests" were done under the control of Stanford Professor Timothy Leary.

So, there was a legitimate drug problem occurring that included people hallucinating on LSD and taking their own lives, and heroine was killing people either by abuse or "cutting" its potency with things like arsenic and powdered milk. If there hadn't been a Gene Dawson opening Mama Dawson's Bazaar as a way to support a non-profit drug counseling and assistance center, it would have been a whole lot worse (He deserves an incredible amount of credit.)

One day, at Scotts Valley Elementary School, the sheriff's department came in and showed us a film. It was the film where Sonny Bono (former congressman and previously, half of the entertainment team Sonny & Cher) got on camera and told you if you smoked marijuana, you would go insane, you'd hallucinate in the mirror and kill yourself out of pure paranoia. It scared the heck out of me.

Then, they laid out a small container with marijuana in it, and lit it on fire so that we could smell it.  Our instruction was that if we ever smelled that at a party, we were supposed to leave immediately, then call the police. They told us that even the smell of it would make us sick to our stomachs and give us headaches.

Now, I was one of those kids who, for some reason, was not the rebellious type.  I remember approaching one of the officers afterward and telling him that I would do as they said, and that the smell of the smoke did, indeed smell bad, and made me ill. He just looked at me funny.  The fact that it was my uncle made an even greater impression on me.

In retrospect, given the fact that I have a birth defect that actually makes it impossible for me to smell anything, I'd have to say they did a pretty good job of convincing me. Some would call it brain-washing.

When I got into high school at Soquel High, I became involved in the theater classes and acting.  After the first play I was in, I was invited to a cast party. And, I noticed people smoking marijuana. So, I picked up the phone and began dialing the police.

One of the other guys noticed me on the phone, but knew I was catching a ride home with someone else later, and asked me what I was doing.  I told him "There are people here smoking marijuana.  I'm calling the police."

He immediately hung up the phone and handed me a beer, and said, "I know what you mean". Then he invited me out to his car to talk.

About an hour later, I guess he figured I had calmed down and that I trusted him. He pulled a joint out of the pocket of his coat. I looked at him, thought about all the crazy things that people do while under the influence of marijuana, and I got scared. So I jumped out of the car, went back into the house, and began to dial the police again.

Next thing I knew, this cute girl was asking me to dance, and I was coaxed into participating in a chugging contest, after which I was very neatly propped up on the driveway out front where I passed out. They took me home the next morning.

What was most difficult about the situation was that these people were my friends.   In many ways, we were like a family of young people taking care of each other. I trusted them. But, I was afraid of getting  involved with drugs.

For about 6 weeks, a number of them would tell me things like "no matter what, we're going to get you to smoke it." I was under some serious pressure to give in.

Finally, one night, about 6 of them sort of surrounded me and insisted that I try it. I said no over and over.  Then, one of the guys said "You know Chuck, I don't really care if you smoke it or not. I just don't want you to call the police. So, think about it, have I ever lied to you or  done anything to hurt you?"

I confirmed that he hadn't. And then I tried it. About all that happened is that I giggled for about a half an hour, got really hungry, and my drama teacher wanted to know why I was grinning like a Cheshire cat.

Now, I'll admit that I smoked it occasionally in my high school days - at Soquel and Arcata High School in Humboldt Country, Ca. - but not often.  If anything, I'd go to parties and help people who had overdosed or became depressed because of their use of amphetamines. And, I learned my lesson by nearly failing a Spanish Final one day when I thought I had aced it. After 10 years of Spanish, I didn't think I could go wrong.

What made the greatest impression on me, though, is that marijuana was not at all what I had been told it was... it was no great scourge, it did not make you insane, it didn't make you violent nor did it make you less inhibited than drinking alcohol.

Bottom line, I knew I had been lied to. Until that moment, I pretty much believed everything I was told by people in positions of authority.  I was no rebel. After that moment, I questioned everything.

Before I continue, I do want to say that I believe there are many drugs and substances that should be illegal, because they are nothing but harmful. Cocaine, heroine, crack, amphetamines and designer drugs. (and you might want to know that young people don't think ecstasy can be harmful - it's not like what they keep being told about these things - I wonder if they understood the impact on their livers, would they take it so lightly?)

But when it comes to marijuana, when you actually trace its illegality, you'll find that it was not made illegal because it is harmful.  It is but one more way the federal government has used propaganda to generate fear in order to create a feeling of unity regarding an issue that is portrayed as a threat to the fabric of American society (other people would call it the oldest trick in the book).

You can't fight something if you don't have an enemy.  But, if you're a politician leading a fight, people will rally around you.  If you have control of the media and the laws, it can turn into a grandiose thing like "the war on drugs". And so certain politicians have, over the years, used it to that end.  And it's easy to do because there is truth to the need to prevent the distribution of illicit drugs, particularly to young people.

By the way, if you think I am trying to rally people around a cause, like the legalization of marijuana, you'd be wrong.  I have a more consistent theme to my list of causes: the truth. That's what I'm going to address next, concerning marijuana. The truth.

The Truth About Marijuana

Marijuana did not become illegal because it was harmful to people.  It became illegal because of a zealot named Harry J. Anslinger. He lead a movement to ban marijuana through scare tactics in a propaganda campaign many years ago.

Off the top of my head, I can remember studies and opinions during the administrations of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan (Reagan generally said it's their business, not government's if people use it, and Nancy Reagan promoted a very straight-forward "Say No To Drugs" Campaign that I thought was excellent) and then, of course, there was Bill Clinton.

"Penalties against drug use should not be more damaging to an individual than use of the drug itself. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against possession of marijuana in private for personal use." President Jimmy Carter, August 2, 1977

Of course, there was the report commissioned by Fiorello La Guardia, the governor of New York from 1934-45. (Intro  Report see also Grass).  That report included these findings (excerpts):

The lessening of inhibitions is not peculiar to marihuana, for in a few subjects who were given alcohol in intoxicating doses the behavior corresponded to that induced by marihuana.

After smoking the main effect was of a euphoric type. Some dizziness and dryness of the mouth were generally present but were not pronounced enough to distract from the pleasant sensations. The condition described as "high" came on promptly and increased with the number of cigarettes smoked, but it was not alarming or definitely disagreeable, and did not give rise to antisocial behavior.

On the contrary it prompted sociability. The marihuana was under the subject's control, and once the euphoric state was present, which might come from only one cigarette, he had no inclination to increase it by more smoking. When a considerable number of cigarettes were smoked, the effect was usually one of drowsiness and fatigue.

The description of the "tea-pad parties" brings out clearly the convivial effect on the groups and the absence of any rough or antagonistic behavior.

I particularly remember the Nixon report, which was ignored, because it cited that the effects of marijuana are that it "gives the user a sense of well-being". Otherwise, it cited no generally ill effects.

I remember it well because at the time, I was doing a radio show, and I parodied the report based on the song "Scarborough Fair" by Simon and Garfunkel - you know, Parsley, Sage Rosemary and Thyme... I joked that the FDA report on those herbs came to the conclusion that "any substance in such wide use and that people enjoy so much couldn't possibly be a good thing." I finished with the teaser "be listening next time as we review the negative psycho-social impact of bubble bath".

It's not that I take it lightly. Like I say, I don't recommend that people use it any more than I recommend that people drink alcohol. I just don't think it's wrong.  What is wrong is sending people to jail in order to facilitate a political agenda.

In the beginning...

Marijuana became a "controlled substance" after the Spanish-American War. Mexicans who frequented the United States or who were migrant laborers brought it with them when they came to work.  On the East Coast, blacks, most notably black musicians, specifically jazz musicians, were known to be users.  What was originally made illegal because of fraudulent claims by a zealot quickly became a means of controlling a population of people, a tool of racism.

And the political powers along the way used the war on drugs to claim victory against a horrible scourge so you'd trust them and vote for them again..

It's very similar to the way the INS is used to control illegal aliens in the U.S.   So long as foreigners, particularly Hispanics, are useful to our economy, and don't make a fuss or expect to be treated like people with rights, they're allowed to stay. Suddenly, one day, when politicians are criticized for immigration policy, you'll hear about a round up of illegals. And, you'll hear little complaint, because these people have no legal rights.  It's a very convenient political manipulation.

As time went on, Anslinger became "the drug Czar", using the media and propaganda to convince Americans that marijuana would "make you insane", that it was a tool of Communism to ruin our young people, that the use of marijuana would definitely lead to the use of harder drugs, that users would kill themselves and other people, that buying it supported the Red Chinese in South Viet Nam, and now, the ultimate threat, that purchasing marijuana supports terrorism.

It's just one more way to exploit 911 and terrorism to scare people into compliance and support of a policy based on lies... relating marijuana to supporting terrorism (if this logic is valid, then why does the Bush administration not embrace it regarding the importation of oil and the sale of low gas mileage vehicles, such as SUV's?)

Marijuana is not a gateway drug

One of the biggest lies spread about marijuana is that it is a gateway drug.  This has not been proven. In fact, it has been disproved. In fact, cigarettes appear to be the greatest gateway to all illicit drug use.

I can tell you myself that what encourages people to try harder drugs are 2 things:

1) If the government lies about marijuana, then they would lie about other drugs, therefore, people are more willing to "see for themselves". It's part of why marijuana users show up as stereotypical liberals: when you feel you've been lied to, it's hard to take the liar at face-value. Therefore, you question things. It's simple human nature.

2) The gateway to harder drugs is not marijuana, it's other people. When I think back many years to the few times I took other drugs, I had no desire whatsoever to take other drugs. The situation was simple. The person I bought marijuana from sold other drugs. It was in his best interest for me to spend more money. OR, a friend who had tried some for the same reasons would ask me if I wanted to try it.

Marijuana is no more a gateway drug than cigarettes leads to the use of chewing tobacco or cigars. It is no more a gateway than the idea that drinking alcohol leads to the over-eating of pretzels.  It's nothing more than incorrect stereo-typical training based on the science of "knowing how to push your buttons".

It's like thinking all marijuana smokers are bad, and that all Christians are fanatics and all Muslims hate America. You could find lots of evidence to make the case if that's what you wanted to do - if it served a purpose - but the statistics would prove the opposite.

It's like watching the news and seeing all the reports about child abduction as if the problem is becoming huge, despite the fact that the incidence of child-abduction has been going down. Child abductions - and crimes against children - are certainly occurring, and are horrible occurrances. But the problem, as a whole, is not as pervasive as it might seem. 

Here's the truly bad news: ask the kids, they'll tell you that marijuana, and drugs in general, are more available than alcohol and cigarettes. That should tell you something about the value of regulation, and the efficacy of our drug and alcohol education programs.  I guarantee you, if you lie to young people and they find out, they will rebel against authority. It's the simple story of the boy who cried wolf.

I don't know about these days, but I do remember years ago, when I was in high school, the only time I recall buying marijuana myself was for an adult. They told me afterward that the old rule of thumb was that if you moved to a new town and wanted to make a connection, the best thing to do was make friends with a high school student.

"Alternatively, experience with and subsequent access to cannabis use may provide individuals with access to other drugs as they come into contact with drug dealers. This argument provided a strong impetus for the Netherlands to effectively decriminalize cannabis use in an attempt to separate cannabis from the hard drug market. This strategy may have been partially successful as rates of cocaine use among those who have used cannabis are lower in the Netherlands than in the United States."

Source: Lynskey, Michael T., PhD, et al., "Escalation of Drug Use in Early-Onset Cannabis Users vs Co-twin Controls," Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 289 No. 4, January 22/29, 2003, online at http://jama.ama-assn.org/issues/v289n4/rfull/joc21156.html, last accessed Jan. 31, 2003.

The Marijuana Culture

You might think that I'm in favor of blanket legalization.  I'm going to disappoint many marijuana smokers by telling you the opposite.

What comes to mind is the times in Soquel in the 70's when marijuana growers perpetually had their crops stolen just before harvest time, and so they booby-trapped the fields with machine guns with fatal results. I'm not saying you have to put up 20 foot fences and such. What I'm pointing to is the need for responsible growth and dispensing.

What comes to mind is the times that military helicopters with machine guns were used in the hills of Humboldt County in order to strafe meadows where children were playing in order to "scare" the residents out of growing marijuana. It made it difficult to tell the good guys from the bad guys.

What comes to mind is the arrest of people growing marijuana legally in Santa Cruz, under state law, and city leaders who then dispensed marijuana for medicinal purposes in defiance of John Ashcroft and the Department of Justice. Fortunately for the leaders of Santa Cruz, and the seriously ill medicinal marijuana recipients, a major national news station covered the event as they dispensed it.

Otherwise, they probably would have been arrested with as much misplaced glee as when they arrested Tommy Chong (of Cheech and Chong) for conspiracy to sell paraphernalia.

What comes to mind is the prosecution under federal law of a marijuana grower - Ed Rosenthal - in the San Francisco Bay area who was growing it under the legal authority of the state.  

Under Federal Law, the prosecutor could deny the introduction of evidence that would show that the grower was in compliance with, and working in tandem with the local government. He stood to serve 7 to 25 years. The jury was outraged when they found out the truth afterward. He was finally sentenced to 1 day. (6/4/2003)

What also comes to mind is a culture of marijuana users who also must transform their thinking. They've become so used to being a "don't ask don't tell" constituency, that it's hard to imagine another way. And there's a genuine resentment toward establishing marijuana as a profit center for large corporations, or sin taxes by the government.  There are concerns about quality, freshness and additives.

Over the years, I have met few people who used marijuana who were unwilling to consider legalization and sale of marijuana with the same laws and controls as alcohol. I could make all the same trite arguments about all the tax revenues and legitimate income and jobs that marijuana could provide, but I too am tired of making the all too logical arguments with people who would prefer to restrict other people to their own preferences.

I could say volumes about how the real control of marijuana would reduce its use by young people.

The one issue that should decide the matter is the truth. Unfortunately, for all the politicians who claim to have tried it without inhaling, the truth is far too confronting, because it would expose a deception, and it would take courage to stand up against the politically generated perception of this issue.

The part that disturbs me the most is the lie.

700,000 people a year are made into criminals because of a lie. That's the biggest crime of all.

And that takes me back to William F. Buckley.

See also:

PBS Frontline: America's War on Marijuana

The History of the Non-Medical Use of Drugs in the United States by Charles Whitebread, Professor of Law, USC Law School A Speech to the California Judges Association 1995 annual conference

Study: Teen anti-drug ads make impact The difficulty is getting kids to see the ads and pay attention to them. A University of Pennsylvania study released last year found the ads are largely ignored by teens. Kids who see or hear anti-drug ads at least once a day are less likely to do drugs than youngsters who don't see or hear ads frequently

Cigarette makers spending more on advertising  The industry spent $11.2 billion on advertising and promotions in 2001, the last year for which such figures were available, according to the study by the Federal Trade Commission. The spending marked a 17 percent increase over 2000, when the industry spent $9.6 billion.

Special Release 30 Years After Nixon's Marijuana Commission Advocated Decriminalization, Report Findings Are Still Valid Nixon Never Read His Own Report, President Bush Should

Medical Marijuana Prisoner Denied Marinol

The Hip-Hop Action Network & Russell Simmons Take on New York's Rockefeller Drug Laws

Drug War Facts

Corruption of Law Enforcement Officers & Public Officials

12 Freed in Appeal of Texas Drug Busts A dozen blacks jailed in a series of small-town drug busts that were based on the now-discredited testimony of a single undercover agent were freed on bail Monday pending appeals. Forty-six people, 39 of whom are black, were arrested and accused of possessing cocaine following an 18-month undercover operation in the Texas Panhandle town by Tom Coleman, now under indictment on perjury charges

Hey DEA, Hemp is Not Marijuana

Marijuana as Medicine: A smoldering debate moves mainstream

George McMahon's Home Page: Welcome to my home page. I am the 5th legal medical marijuana recipient in the United States. Since March of 1990, I have been receiving a monthly prescription for medical marijuana from the federal government. At the current time, there are only eight of us left.

Hip-Hop Mogul Simmons Under Inquiry for Lobbying The commission is looking into whether Simmons and others, including former Clinton cabinet secretary Andrew Cuomo and former gubernatorial candidate Thomas Golisano, spent more than $2,000 to influence state officials. Anyone spending over $2,000 to lobby the state government must register with the commission and make periodic financial disclosures. The lobbying watchdog is also checking to see if Simmons gave an illegal gift of a free helicopter ride to Secretary of State Randy Daniels last week, Grandeau said. State officials are not allowed to accept gifts worth more than $75. Simmons is part of a coalition that has been working to convince New York's state legislature to relax the so-called Rockefeller drug laws

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